Monday, November 10, 2008

Medical Mart might not go to Tower City after all

A weird story in the Sunday Plain Dealer shows something's happening behind the scenes with the convention center and Medical Mart project. It's clearer if you read the article upside-down.

"Cleveland's Medical Mart threatened by New York project," the headline reads. The lead is direct: "A major threat to Cleveland's proposed Medical Mart is growing in New York, where developers say they are ready to start building a $1 billion World Product Centre."

The Plain Dealer is no longer buying the claims that the New York medical mart poses no threat to Cleveland. Toby Cosgrove, the Cleveland Clinic's CEO and an early supporter of the Medical Mart, is sounding an alarm about delays in the project here.

Why the delays? That's what you have to read backwards to learn. Here's my rewrite of the info in the article's 19th to 29th paragraphs:

Cleveland's proposed convention center and medical mart may not be built at Tower City after all.

Merchandise Mart Properties, the project's developer, has quietly rejected
the Greater Cleveland Partnership's recommendation of Tower City as the cheaper location for the project. The developer, which has re-examined both Tower City and the site of the current convention center, now says it could build on either site for a much lower cost than the Partnership estimated.

"We think that both [Cleveland] sites are viable," said Mark Falanga, senior vice president. The company and its consultants have reduced costs at both places to about $400 million, he said.

That means the powerful Forest City Enterprises, which owns Tower City, may yet lose out on the project. MMPI hasn't even started negotiating with Forest City. And the county commissioners, who asked the chamber for its recommendation, now say they'll go along with whichever site MMPI prefers.

The county commissioners had planned to choose a site months ago. Now they say they "want to" vote on a site in January.

The public has had little chance to examine the decision-making about this project, though it will be built with $400 million in public funds. That's because the county commissioners have relied on private entities, MMPI and the Partnership, to analyze it. This September story from Scene looks into some of the big questions the public will have to ask the county and MMPI when they finally nail down a deal.

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